Thumb thief case is declared a mistrial

Ian Bush
April 09, 2019 - 2:33 pm

Courtesy of The Franklin Institute

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UPDATED: 6:12 p.m.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Jurors considering felony charges against 23-year-old Michael Rohana told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked after two days of deliberations.

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Federal prosecutors have not said whether they will retry the Bear, Delaware man, who was charged with stealing a thumb in 2017 from the Chinese terra cotta warrior exhibit at the Franklin Institute.

Rohana faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Federal prosecutors must weigh, among other concerns, the expense and logistics of calling several people from China to testify again in a retrial.

Judge Petrece Tucker twice asked the jurors to keep trying, but in the end, they could not agree on a verdict on charges of theft and concealment of an object of cultural heritage from a museum. It wasn’t a matter of if Rohana took the thumb from the 2000-year-old cavalryman statue. But his defense attorneys argued what happened didn’t warrant a federal case.

Their experts put the value of the thumb lower than prosecutors contended. And they questioned whether security was up to snuff during the after-hours, boozy event at the Franklin Institute when the thumb was taken. 

Prosecutors asked how the jury would feel about someone taking a piece of the Liberty Bell — this is that level of offense to the Chinese. They have until May 15 to decide whether to put Rohana back on trial.